The Atlas of Cities
How many times reading a tale have you pictured a character, a place, a room, a house, a street, a city in your mind?
How many times reading a story have you discovered so many details between the lines that you have almost been able to ‘see’ an image before your eyes?
The Atlas of Cities contains seven short stories written by me using the concept of ‘key words’ invented and developed by British educationalist William Murray who – identifying the hundred most frequently used words in English language – demonstrated through many years of research and practice that by repeating those words more times in any narrative, they will leave a mark in the memory of the child, so that learning may become easier and faster.
William Murray’s books have been extensively published by Ladybird.
The stories have been named after the Seven Sages of Greece and tell of seven imaginary cities and their inhabitants; they are unfinished stories as they lack illustrations, not to be completed but rather enriched. How would you picture them?
I SEE is what I IMAGINE. Tell me about your story. Tweet your fantasy @rossellascalia #TheAtlasofCities #Archi-fiction
The city of Cleobulus is made of a large square building from which many narrow roads depart, each of them reaching a small circular garden with a hexagonal well in the centre.
The blue building where all the inhabitants of Cleobulus live stands in a huge square with no roof. All the citizens meet in the square to discuss the weather and the life of the city.
The citizens of Cleobulus remain in the square for hours, some even sleep there as they say it is nice to look at the stars at night with their backs on the floor and think that someone else in the world is watching the same sky.
The city of Solon has a wide yellow road that crosses the whole city. Ten lanes go to ten different places, but the road always seems to follow the same direction.
The inhabitants of Solon do not use cars or trains, they travel on horses. Day and night you can see horses running back and forth along the ten lanes, stopping only when they reach a brown house with green windows.
There is no asphalt in Solon, everything is built with soil and water, so that when it rains all the horses change colour and turn yellow as the earth, and those who pass by chance in those days through Solon, see citizens also becoming yellow, lighting up like small bulbs at nightfall.
The city of Chilon has two temperatures, cold and hot. Half of the inhabitants lives in the warm side of the city and does not know winters. Whoever inhabits the cold side has on the other hand never seen summers. The buildings of Chilon are small orange cylinders raised three metres from the ground by means of thin bars of black aluminium that grab the structure at the sides and through the inside.
The inhabitants of Chilon live floating in the air that passes through the city; the meeting of cold and hot makes the air very thick, a gray and solid cloud on which is possible to walk. The inhabitants of the hot zone are always cheerful but often complain about the draught. The inhabitants of the cold area are often serious; they rarely laugh and do not hug anybody because the cold makes them frozen.
One day an inhabitant of the cold area went through the red building that separates the two zones. He was immediately struck by the changing of the air temperature; his skin immediately changed colour, the hair melted like an ice cream in the sun and, frightened by what was happening to him, he quickly ran away. When he was back in the cold area he realised how different the two worlds were. The day after, he crossed the border again and remained in the hot zone longer. He talked to the people and invited them to visit the cold zone, just a little way away from there.
The city of Bias is full of circuits, like Formula 1 motor race tracks. Twenty circuits divide the city into rectangles of equal size and each street turns on itself, returning always to where it had started.
The inhabitants of Bias live in a ditch within each circuit. They do not know anything about what happens outside it; they do not see those who live inside the next circuit, not even the closest one; they only see two roads, one to go and the other to come back.
The circuits are concrete ribbons with white stripes that wrap around the city’s neighbourhoods. Everyone travels the same roads every day; citizens take the car and follow the street below then, at end of the day when they want to go back home, their car runs fast on a second elevated road right above the first, and only from there can they finally see the entire city of Bias.
The city of Thales consists of two buildings; one is tall and made of a black sponge surrounded by a wire mesh that allows air to circulate; the other is as low as a very tall man, but it is so long that only few people know where it ends.
The sponge building is cosy and many families live like bees close together, sharing the space required for each of them. Children play on the roof, where they just bounce a bit to have fun with little effort. In the low building live people who love loneliness; not many inhabitants occupy a long gray rectangle. All the surfaces, both the roof and facade, are covered with pointed steel nails to prevent anyone from approaching the building.
It is thought that the inhabitants of this building once lived in the sponge palace with the others, then one day they decided to build a space just for themselves because they were tired of the noise and the collective life of the building. Since then, they never leave home and no one goes to pay them a visit. They do not even meet in the hallways because everybody thinks only of himself.
The city of Pittacus is cut into pieces like a fork, uncertain which bite to grab. The narrow lines that run through the iron walls of Pittacus are not deep but they set the rhythm of the many areas of the city. Where the lines increase, rhythms become more intense and the buildings, made of plastic, resonate with the flowing of wind; inclined, they whisk their walls vigorously, always trying to get back to the original position.
The streets of Pittacus are brown; there are no cars, because the city is so small that anyone who wakes up early in the morning can arrive in the evening to see all the rooms of the city.
There is a building in a far corner of Pittacus that turns on itself like the wheel of a water mill. It is the movement of citizens that determines the speed of the wheel, so that at sunset the wheel stops and goes to sleep, waiting to twist again the next day.
Periander is the city of aluminium factories. Black fumes criss cross the streets that run parallel and intertwine in intersections that only end in the mouth of buildings that have no roof but a deep hole that runs through all the floors.
Houses have circular shapes like tiny silos that leave room for the tall chimneys of the factories. The chimneys are wrapped in circles of coloured lights and fill the city with joy. Some areas are dense and full of random houses, and people get lost in those areas.
Towers puff smoke every three hours and make the streets of Periander all black; passersby leave white footprints in many directions and when the factories close down, the inhabitants of Periander sweep the black dust away from the streets and a phosphorescent green gas rises from the dark ash.
RE-IMAGINING BEATRIX POTTER’S TALES IN AN URBAN CONTEXT
By entering the world of Beatrix Potter, I felt the urgent need to grasp it and mould it into mine, so I weaved new stories with my hands. I just looked at her tiny watercolour paintings and let them gradually take me to an end or to the beginning of a new story. I never knew the image that followed, I only sensed when it was the right time to turn the page, driven by the natural evolution of events. As in life, I have faced uncertainty experiencing a sensibility that is only mine.
I hope that many other stories may be discovered by thousands of readers who are still unchained and able to sail the sea of imagination.
I SEE is what I IMAGINE. Tell me about your story. Tweet your fantasy @rossellascalia #BeatrixPotter #Archi-fiction
The tale of Flop & Flip
Flop is a city frog. Every Sunday he wears his best clothes and goes fishing in the park. He always brings a wicker basket with the expectation of catching something, but his hopes are often dashed.
Flip is also a city frog. He spends his Sundays reading on the window sill of his flat. He dresses in his best clothes too, even though he prefers a domestic environment to the social and frenetic city life. The floor of his house is a flat plane of water; Flip has enclosed a small lake raising walls around it, thus turning his natural home into an urban dwelling. For this reason he goes out very little, he lives in a perfect habitat that has been created artificially. Sometimes he feels the need to look at the horizon, thus he opens the window and realises that he is surrounded by 30-story buildings. Disappointed, he goes to his synthetic back garden and starts digging a hole so deep that nobody is able to see the end; Flip loves looking down at his infinite horizon, he says that it is like watching the sky.
Meanwhile Flop is jumping from one water lily to another, trying to find the best location to fish in that rectangular city park. His leaping suddenly makes him feel alive and for a moment he forgets the reason why he started jumping. Then he finds a place that immediately stops his feet, thus he anchors fast his boat of leaves to the thin stem of an aquatic plant; from there no one can see him and he cannot see anything other than clumps of broadleaf plants. Sniffing the mystery, he goes through the bushes and discovers that, behind that natural barrier there exists a world extraneous to the one he lives in, a world of stillness, trees and endless green lands and gentle hills.
There, he can also hear the sound of the lake water moved by playful fishes; his mouth stretches into a smile. Decides to remain there for a while and grabbing his last lollipop, casts a hook into the water. Dozing, lulled by the warmth of the sun, Flop waits for a bite for hours, and sometimes opens his eyes and looks at Nature in awe. Forgetting the passage of time, he builds his moment in space while enjoying the flavour of a floral sandwich.
Suddenly his thoughts transform into a slimy aquatic animal that sneakly swims underwater and disturbs his mind. His sweet visions seem in danger but Flop tries to stay focused on fishing, and when his stubborn eyes remain fixed to observe the line, a fish takes the bait. Scared to death, both flounder and their red eyes meet for a moment.
Flop falls back pushed by the power of the fish, which moves its tail convulsively and pants, lying on a floating leaf. The din of the event has suddenly broken the harmony of that corner of the earth, a sound of anguish and violence that all the fish of the lake, terrified experience. Flop realises that the lake had answered to an external stimulus; actions never exist in isolation, they are often seagulls flying between instincts and reactions. Flop did not really want to kill any fish, the time he had spent in the act of fishing was a way to escape the world and reflect on it.
Incredulous of this discovery, Flop helps the fish to go back to the lake but in an instant the fish opens its mouth and tries to bite him. Flop shrinks and hides behind the wicker basket, the fish violently hits the basket with its tail so that it spills into the lake with a loud splash. Trembling, Flop closes his eyes almost squeezing them, and bending his knees he reaches the opposite shore with a single bound.
Devoid of any possessions but the most expensive one, life, he runs back to the artificial city park. There Nature is harmless because dead, and with very little spontaneity. Terrified by the events, in a few leaps he arrives at the urban residence of his friend Flip who, in the meantime, is having a chat in the street with some neighbours; a smiling couple who has moved to the city recently, two lovely turtles. Flip loves telling stories about his youth, when the earth was populated by beings equal to one another, not identical in their physical appearance but similar in their situation in life. Every soul followed the flow of time, its own time, never invading the others’ tempo and always respecting the different rhythm that everyone else has.
In life, explained Flip, each of us has different speeds and who can decide what the best of these is, or if an expertise in knowing how to live really exists. Interested in the discussion, the two neighbours invited Flip to dinner and talked animatedly all night about how everyone might build a small piece of world in this vast universe that is called life; each piece would be unique as in the patient construction of a puzzle.
Flop waited hours for his friend, he wanted to tell him of that remote place concealed in the city park, of the gentle breeze that lightly touched his face, of the endless green land, and also of the sudden aggression of the fish and his fear of dying. Then, still sitting at the front door, he thought that this strange adventure had taught him to have respect, respect for others’ tempo and for the rhythms of Nature. He decided that returning home would be the best way to give importance to the waiting.
Flip and Flop met the next day, but Flop never confessed to his friend that he had tried to break a rhythm that did not belong to him.
[ Based on ‘ The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher’, Beatrix Potter, 1906 ]
The Story of two Rabbits
His eyes are smart and so too are his ears, straight on his head always ready to perceive any weakness. Tom is a rabbit who lives in the private garden of a metropolis. His house is narrow and enclosed by bars, sometimes the front door is left open and those are the few moments when Tom sniffs the sweet air of freedom.
Tim is a country rabbit, he does not know much about the rest of the world and the idea of getting away from his little corner of the earth terrifies him. He eats what he finds, what Nature gives him everyday, and spends life unsatisfied, he is just not interested in searching for satisfaction.
One day Tom shoved with a paw the door of his city house and strangely found it open. He looked around and seeing nothing but his empty bowl of synthetic food, he decided to get away from the city for a few days. Bored by the routine of his weeks, he jumped on the first car that passed and excitedly started a journey with no destination. He saw buildings and skyscrapers sliding fast through the rear window of the car, then the houses began to shrink, buildings to lower, roads to narrow and suddenly his sight fell upon a soft green valley where the sun shone on the geometric design of cultivated hills.
He opened the car door silently and took a jump toward the infinite. He was hungry and already tired of the long journey. Puffing and grumbling, his astute eyes fell on a small rabbit who was eating a carrot singing on an old wooden bench. Tom decided to approach him with an excuse – asking for the time never fails – and start a little chat so as to distract the rabbit and take advantage of the situation harmlessly and effortlessly.
Tim, surprised by the aggression of a stranger, tried to quickly get away from that insolent and noisy rabbit, but Tom kept bombarding Tim with words and stories about the city and how wonderful was life there. Tim felt a strong sense of nausea, he hated being disturbed during his lunch, when the sun reaches a height that fills the entire landscape with a light that makes him feel alive. He nodded and smiled forcedly, then stood up suggesting that it was time for him to go. Tom suddenly nabbed the carrot forcefully and bit it angrily looking at Tim straight in the eyes.
The two remained silent for a while; one dazed, the other proud. Then Tim walked away with his ears lowered. He remained hidden for hours, looking at Tom from the den of another rabbit who lived close to the bench. He was enjoying Tim’s carrot when a hunter came by. The man was whistling and searching for something delicious that may tickle the trigger of his gun. Suddenly he stopped: a rabbit on a bench was busy eating a carrot. He could not believe his eyes, quickly he grabbed the rifle and hidden behind a tree inspected the target. Imagining the succulent dinner he was going to have that evening, the hunter did not hesitate to take aim and break the silence with a BANG.
A thick cloud of smoke puffed from the gun, the man saw only two rabbit ears fidget awkwardly, but when he approached the bench, sure of collecting his prey, he found only a small piece of carrot and the tail of a rabbit. Furious, he wandered in search of his dinner until Tim, who was watching the scene from his safe place, could no longer see him.
He will never know if Tom managed to escape, or if that night he had been the meal of a ruthless hunter. What is certain is that Tim will forever remember that city rabbit who lived insatiably in search of satisfaction.
[ Based on ‘ The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit’, Beatrix Potter, 1906 ]
A new House for Mr. Tod
Mr. Tod lives in New Yondon where he shares a tiny flat with five other badgers. All arrived in the city from different parts of the world, and all with a dream in the drawer. He decided one day to build a house for himself in a park close to the city. Tired of struggling to find in his house a place to think, he picked up a few tools and walked out in search of a comfortable space. As he crossed the tree-lined promenades of the park, he met the sight of a worried-looking rabbit. He sat on the legs of a war hero.
Tod was suddenly certain that no place would be better than that shady area for his new home, thus he made a circular furrow in the ground and proudly announced to the rabbit that a house would soon be built there, his new home. The rabbit looked at him indifferent and continued to mull over something. Ten minutes later another rabbit came over, the two exchanged a few words and a veil of tension covered their eyes. While Tod began to dig the foundations of his shelter, the two rabbits went away quietly, discussing something that seemed very dear to both. Tod did not get distracted by them, he was so determined to carry out his business that he soon forgot that encounter. It took only one day for the house to be ready. It had space enough for Tod and his guests on the first floor and a large kitchen and dining room on the ground floor.
The two rabbits, who had returned at night to the place where they had met Tod earlier, were amazed by the speed of the badger in building his dwelling. They peeked through a window to see the result of such a fast job, but their view was blocked by heavy curtains that prevented unwanted eyes from penetrating the privacy of the house; Tod was a meticulous badger. The two rabbits slept there and spent the night in each others’ arms in order to feel less the biting cold.
The following day, the rabbits noticed that the curtains were now open and a ray of sunshine lit up a dusty interior. A few pots were hung on the wall, many people might be living there. The two rabbits then saw a silhouette moving inside the house, it was a fox. He had an elegant bearing and seemed familiar with the place. He walked swinging on a wooden stick, one of his legs was shorter than the other and this detail made the fox even more fascinating; he looked a fox who had lived many adventures. The two rabbits followed the movements of the fox; he quickly disappeared behind a wall and a few minutes after, a scream sounded like a siren in the park. The two rushed inside ready to help, and what they found was Tod lying on the bed and the fox terrified, screaming his namein vain. Tod gave no signs of life.
Uncertain of what to do, the two rabbits remained hidden waiting to intervene should it be necessary. But when their fear was about to turn into courage, the fox pulled out from his pocket a hook bound to a rope and hung it on the high headboard of the bed on which Tod was lying motionless. Terrified, the rabbits did not move a paw. The fox then took a bucket, hung it on the hook and shut the rope in the nearest window so that the bucket would remain suspended right on Tod’s face. The fox did not seem to have bad intentions, he touched Tod’s forehead and disappeared.
The rabbits, distressed by the events, huddled together and spent the night at Tod’s bedside. The next day when they woke up, the badger was having breakfast in the next room, happy and content with a cup of tea in his hands. He seemed in good health. The fox knocked on the door a few minutes later, Tod greeted him warmly as if nothing had happened the night before. The two talked for a while but the rabbits failed to catch any word as they were too far away and still too scared to come out. Suddenly they saw the fox and Tod starting a violent fight. The table tipped over, the cup fell to the floor and shattered noisily into tiny pieces, the wooden chair was cracked on the back of the fox; the two rolled on the floor in a suffocating hold.
The intervention of the rabbits was timely. With force they managed to separate the two from the bites of anger and, seated at the opposite corners of the kitchen like two boxers during a fight, they still continued to spit insults for a while. When the atmosphere calmed down, the rabbits asked for an explanation, but Tod and the fox hesitated. Then the badger began to accuse the fox of trying to get rid of him with a bucket hung on the bed, in order to occupy illegally his newly built house. The fox, calling him a fool and an ingrate, explained that his was simply an act of help and nothing more.
Just as the fox began to argue, a clap of thunder broke his words and pouring rain began to wet the heads of the four. The rabbits looked up surprised and realised that the house had no roof. Tod justified himself saying that the day before he had been too exhausted to be able to build a roof for his home. The rabbits, seeing the fox nodding, understood that the bucket he had placed over the bed was a way to protect Tod from the rain, so that he could get enough rest to complete his project the next day.
The fox knew perfectly the feeling of not belonging to any place, the sensation of not having a home to return to, of not having a roof that shelters yourself from adversity. The rabbits speechlessly admired the selfless help of the fox and the stubbornness of Tod who wanted to build his own space, his own freedom. After being forced to leave their home in the private garden of a house that the owners had turned into a garage, the two rabbits roamed the parks of the city in search of a warm place to sleep. They had become homeless.
The day after the four built the roof in cooperation with each other and lived together until the day, a few years later, when three bulldozers razed the park to clear the way for a flashy skyscraper.
[ Based on ‘ The Tale of Mr. Tod, Beatrix Potter, 1912 ]